The Importance of Speaking Other Business Languages


Kyle T. Westra
Manager, Wiglaf Pricing

Published June 17, 2019

I was recently in Portland, Oregon for the first time, attending a business conference. The Digital Summit series brings together all manner of marketing practitioners, from strategists to email marketing specialists to search optimization experts.

While only tangentially related to pricing, such an event is useful because it provides exposure to new ideas and other types of business executives. It’s important not to get stuck in a silo, no matter what you are doing.

UX Meets MBA

One of the best presentations I saw drove this point home. It was entitled “UX Meets MBA: A Designer Goes to Business School.” In it, McLean Donnelly explained how getting out of the design bubble helped him to not only level up at work, but to become better at his design job as well.

After years of design work, Donnelly earned his MBA and immersed himself in all “that business stuff” that designers typically ignore. By better understanding strategy, finance, and other business fields, he found himself becoming much more valuable at his job. Being promoted to design management positions at Expedia and Shutterstock after earning his degree demonstrated this increased value.

Donnelly specifically called out two important areas of learning that he believed were important to share with the largely design-focused audience:

  • Knowing how to read an income statement
  • Thinking in terms of business strategy

Understanding financials enabled Donnelly to see how he could better quantify the value of the design work he and his team performed. He could calculate what the anticipated effect of one website design would be compared to another based on how they differed in user conversion and other metrics. His ability to walk into meetings and present demonstrable and defensible financial impacts generated by his work rather than mere “hunches” of profit improvement has helped to earn his teams more respect and responsibility.

Understanding business strategy helped him to see how different initiatives aligned with larger company priorities. Determining which activities not to focus on can be as important as identifying which to prioritize. There are opportunity costs in any plan of action. Design and branding must be aligned with other areas of the company in order to have the most impact.

Donnelly urged his fellow designers to learn more about “that business stuff.” According to him, it will make them better designers and more valuable assets to any company.

Learning Different Business Languages

I come from the MBA side of the equation. It was great to see someone excited about sharing their insights about my area and applying it to their own. Seeing audience members scribbling down “EBITDA” and “Michael Porter” made me smile, and it reinforced to me how important and useful it is to learn about others’ areas of expertise.

In my experience, this is a useful aspect of pricing but something that our field can do better as well.

Pricing is such an interstitial field that it’s nearly impossible not to be exposed to various areas of a business. Pricing touches sales, marketing, and finance at the very least, so effective pricing professionals need to have at least a passing familiarity with the basics of those fields and the ways that executives in those fields think.

Much of our pricing strategy consulting work involves organizational design to put the right processes in place for different departments to communicate more effectively with each other. Pricing simply works better when different fields are represented in the decision-making process. Sales, marketing, and finance all have unique perspectives that bring valuable information to the table.

Pricing therefore may be less likely to silo itself than other departments. The fact that for many companies pricing isn’t a department at all makes it hard for such silos to occur in the first place. At the same time, pricing as a field needs to keep challenging itself to do better.

MBA Meets UX

In my experience, many pricing executives come from a heavily quantitative field such as finance. Their preferred method of communication is the spreadsheet and they view the conclusions to be drawn from their equations as self-evident. Little effort is made to tailor the message to non-quantitative audiences. This is a big mistake.

As designers know, appearances matter. The method in which information is communicated requires careful consideration if the communicator wants to maximize their impact.

The following graph represents data, but the message is unclear. There is too much going on, and the viewer needs to look back and forth across the graphic to understand what they are seeing:


This graph, on the other hand, focuses the viewer’s attention. The viewer quickly understands the dollar values and is being told to focus on the rightmost bar by the sparing use of color:


Which type of graphic is more common in your department, company, or industry? For too many, the answer will be the first one.

Communicating with bad design is self-sabotage. Yet the fundamentals of good design are easy to learn.

Take a cue from Donnelly. MBAs, meet UX.

About The Author

Kyle T. Westra is a Manager at Wiglaf Pricing. His areas of focus include pricing transformations, new product pricing, commercial policy, and pricing software. Most recently to Wiglaf Pricing, Kyle worked in project management, business systems analysis, and marketing analysis, starting his career in global strategy at a foreign policy think tank. He has extensive experience in ecommerce, sales strategy, economic analysis, and change management. His Amazon bestselling book about how technological trends are affecting pricing and commercial strategy is entitled The New Invisible Hand: Five Revolutions in the Digital Economy. Kyle is a Certified Pricing Professional (CPP). He holds an MBA with distinction from the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University and a BA in Political Science and Economics from Tufts University.